Emmanuel Onwubiko: Nigeria’s descent to repression


As the World marks the international press freedom day, one person who can be used as a model to showcase the state of the observance of the freedom of expression is the senator representing Kogi West Mr. Dino Melaye who was wheeled to the federal high court in Lokoja and slammed with some politically motivated charges of conspiracy to commit crime and other nebulous affiliate charges.

Worst still, the presiding judge shows how weak and compromised the judicial arm is by not granting bail to an accused who was brought to court almost half dead but rather remanded him to prison custody according to early reports from Lokoja in Kogi State.

This senator is unarguably the most vocal amongst the 106 senators of the Federal Republic in the current dispensation. Dino Melaye could express his opinions freely because he found the atmosphere of liberalism and liberty within the ambience of the Senate under a person considered as a democrat to the core Senator Bukola Saraki who is the President of the Senate.

The next in line to him in terms of rigorous defence of the rights of the oppressed populace is the senator representing Kaduna Central in the person of Senator Shehu Sani.

He too has been slammed with other phantom criminal charges by the Kaduna police command.

Dino Melaye has consistently been attacked by the Nigeria police whose leadership is slavishly subservient to the executive arm of government. The current Inspector General of Police didn’t land his job by merit but through political favours when President Muhammadu Buhari against natural justice and conventions retired over two dozen better qualified and better ranking officers just so the current holder can step into office and ever since he stepped in the level of discipline in the force has plummeted significantly to an extent that President Buhari openly confessed that the IGP disobeyed his Presidential order to remain in Benue and wage war against armed Fulani herdsmen killing off hundreds of local farmers and Christian leaders. So these vocal Senators are victims of increased media repression and a regime of repression.

The reason for these constant brushes with the highly compromised police is because the senator from Kogi has always spoken out his mind on issues considered as anathema politically by the fanatical supporters of the All Progressive Congress led Federal government.

For instance, Senator Dino Melayo had on several occasions in the floor of the national Assembly exposed explosive financial infractions committed by officials of the current presidency including the huge bills that Nigerian National Petroleum Corporations spends illegally as subsidy for importation of fuel and the illegal employment of children of favoured politically connected persons into plumb jobs in the central bank of Nigeria.

In this specific capital flight scandal, the Central Bank of Nigeria was indicted by the senate just as the vigorous contributions of senators Dino Melaye and Shehu Sani facilitated the quick legislative resolution on it.

The Senate adopted the resolution indicting the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in capital flight scandal involving the MTN.

The resolution followed the adoption of the report of the Senate Committee on Banking, Insurance and other financial institutions on the unscrupulous violation of the Foreign Exchange Monitoring Miscellaneous Act (FEMMA) by MTN and others.

The recommendations of the committee chaired by Senator Rafiu Ibrahim (APC, Kwara) was unanimously adopted by the Senate during plenary presided over by the Senate President, Bukola Saraki.

The resolutions of the committee are: “Condemn the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for failing in its duty to bring forth those observed deficiencies of FEMMA for amendment rather than granting extensions and exemptions which became prone to abuses.”

The independent positions of the duo of Melaye and Sani are not seen as palatable by their political party which produced the President just as the political hawks affiliated to president Buhari see these senators as being too outspoken to protect the political agenda of the president so they designed different ways of deploying the pliable Nigeria police force to do the dirty work of intimidating, harassing and physically attacking these senators.

MR. Dino Melaye has therefore suffered series of attacks by the police because of his determination to use his constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression to ventilate his opinions freely and boldly. He was quoted as saying that: “If you speak the truth you will die, if you don’t speak you will die. So I will speak the truth and die”. So the police are now exposing his health to severe risks just because he has remained vocal and independent minded.

On his part, the Kaduna Central senator Comrade Shehu Sani has had running battles also with the governor of his home state of Kaduna over disagreements on the purported hijacking of the party structure by the governor. These political fights has snowballed into the use of the police to attempt to frame up senator Shehu Sani over some phantom crime.

The police repression directed towards senator Sani increased when he as the chairman of the senate committee on local and foreign debts, successfully spoke against permitting the World Bank to grant multimillion dollars loan to the Kaduna state government.

This was the last straw that broke the Camel’s back which fetched the outspoken senator the phantom allegation of conspiracy to commit crime instigated politically by his detractors as the General Katsina Usman government house in Kaduna. The enemies of press freedom and freedom of expression are those wielding power over the security forces which they often deploy to tackle their perceived political opponents whose only weapon is the mouth and the love of freedom of expression.

Few days before this year’s press freedom day, the United States of America wrote a detailed report of the human rights situation in Nigeria and indicted the current government over series of breaches of the press freedom rights and constitutional rights to freedom of expression.

The United States of America’s department of state wrote thus:

“Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, the government frequently restricted these rights. Freedom of Expression: The constitution entitles every individual to “freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.”

The United States wrote further thus: “Although federal and state governments usually respected this right, there were reported cases in which the government abridged the right to speech and other expression. Press and Media Freedom: Freedom House’s annual survey of media independence, Freedom of the Press 2017, described the press as “partly free.” A large and vibrant private domestic press frequently criticized the government, but critics reported being subjected to threats, intimidation, and sometimes violence”.

The United States government noted that because newspapers and television were relatively expensive and literacy levels low, radio remained the most important medium of mass communication and information.

The Americans rightly noted that security services increasingly detained and harassed journalists, sometimes for reporting on sensitive problems such as political corruption and security.

“Security services including police occasionally arrested and detained journalists who criticized the government. On June 2, the publisher and editor of the People’s Conscience newspaper, Charles Otu, was abducted and beaten by unknown assailants in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State.”

“Otu claims the men who beat him did so because he wrote a Facebook post criticizing the governor of Ebonyi, David Umahi Nweze, for failing to live up to his campaign promises”. According to Otu, the men read from the post as they beat him”.

Also, the report observed that a Transparency International publication cited a June 2016 case in which the minister of defense condemned media reports regarding the chief of army staff’s links to high-end property developers, describing them as “disgruntled and unpatriotic elements” and warning media that they should show more professionalism when reporting on security matters”.

“Following that statement, in September 2016, soldiers and officers of the State Security Services allegedly stripped and beat 10 journalists and media workers with barbed wire before arresting them. In September, Emmanuel Atswen, a journalist with the state-run News Agency of Nigeria, was detained in Benue State for reporting that relief materials were allegedly being diverted from a camp for flood victims. He was reportedly arrested because of alleged defamation of character and falsehood directed at a commissioner involved in the relief efforts”.

On censorship or Content Restrictions, the U.S. government said the government controlled much of the electronic media through the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), which is responsible for monitoring and regulating broadcast media.

It stated that the law prohibits local television stations from transmitting programming from other countries except for special religious programs, sports programs, or events of national interest.

“Cable and satellite transmission was less restricted. For example, the NBC permitted live transmission of foreign news and programs on cable and satellite networks, but they were required to dedicate 20 percent of their programming time to local content.”

The Americans found out that journalists practiced self-censorship because security services intimidated newspaper editors and owners into censoring reports of killings and other human rights abuses.

“Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are civil offenses and require defendants to prove truthfulness or value judgment in news reports or editorials or pay penalties. The requirement limited the circumstances in which media defendants could rely on the common law legal defense of “fair comment on matters of public interest,” and it restricted the right to freedom of expression. Defamation is a criminal offense carrying a penalty for conviction of up to two years’ imprisonment and possible fines. Allegations of libel are also used as a form of harassment by government officials in retaliation for negative reporting. For example, in January police raided the offices of the Premium Times, a leading online newspaper, and arrested editor Dapo Olorunyomi and reporter Evelyn Okakwu. The arrests came after the newspaper declined to retract stories regarding the army and its operations that the Chief of Army Staff’s Office reportedly found defamatory. The case garnered significant media attention, and authorities quickly released the journalists. The incident was evidence of the occasional use of government entities to harass or intimidate members of the news media.”

On numerous occasions, the media practitioners have had their tools of work smashed on the ground by police operatives who felt that the press was trying to record them whilst they commit crime of bribery and corruption. This is against section 22 of the Constitution authorizing journalists to be the consciences of the nation.

The anti-cybercrime legislation passed in 2015 has also been used as a tool of harassment and intimidation of bloggers and commentators on the social media.

The worst cases of violations of press freedom happened right in front of president Buhari when he visited Kaduna and Lagos when it occurred that police and the secret police or DSS attacked some journalists who were simply doing their work.

The federal government has so far failed to systematically bring these perpetrators of human rights abuses to justice.

When challenged by President Donald Trump during a recent visit to Washington DC over cases of human rights abuses, president Buhari asserted that his government is a respecter of human rights.

His words: “The Government of Nigeria remains deeply committed to the principles of human rights as well as the promotion and protection of people’s freedom, even in the process of fighting terror. We will ensure that all documented cases of human rights abuses are investigated and those responsible for violations held accountable for their actions.”

He also claimed that: “In addition, the Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria inaugurated the Nigerian Military Human Rights Dialogue in August 2015 to provide the Nigerian Military and Para-Military with necessary tools to integrate human rights practices into their code, education systems, field training and disciplinary systems.”

Hear him: “To this end, the victims of a criminal law enforcement operation that occurred in 2013 (otherwise known as Apo-six) were compensated in April this year based on the findings of the National Human Rights Commission. Two of the police officers responsible were convicted for culpable homicide arising from the extra-judicial killings.”

Buhari told Trump that: “Mr. President, this is the first time in the history of Nigeria that the Federal Government compensated the victims of extra-judicial killings. It also provides a sustainable platform for local and international human rights organizations to constructively engage the Nigerian security forces on human rights concerns. We also look to share best practices in this area with the United States.”

These claims are only theoretical because in practice, there is a serious resurgence of media repression in Nigeria. Independent media are facing various forms of threats from the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission which recently introduced some obnoxious practices denying members of the public from freely expressing themselves in the electronic media. The Army recently warned users of social media that it was monitoring them and will deal with ‘trouble makers’. Nigerians must defend their Freedom to express their opinions freely.

*Emmanuel Onwubiko is the Head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and [email protected]; www.huriwanigeria.com; [email protected]


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